Harvesting in war: 80% of arable land in Zaporizhzhia remains under occupation

Harvesting in war: 80% of arable land in Zaporizhzhia remains under occupation

Ukrinform
Ukrinform correspondents saw how the harvest is being carried out in Zaporizhzhia region

Russians have stolen more than a million tons of crops from Zaporizhzhia farmers, taken away equipment, burned hangars and destroyed elevators. Now they are also mining and burning fields.

COMPLEX LOGISTICS AND DIFFICULT DECISIONS

In Zaporizhzhia region, the harvest has been going on for two weeks at the fields of Slavutych Agrofarm. The farmers are harvesting winter wheat, mowing rape, peas and barley. The farmers are satisfied with the quality of this year's harvest, although they are still unable to understand what exactly gave them the "wow effect". They say they will analyze later what contributed the most: weather, fertilizers, or perhaps some other reason.

The co-owner of the farm, Lisa Marych, says that there is demand for the crop, but the price is low.

"We won't sell it right away, we'll hold on to it. This is what various analysts advise us to do. Although, it's not all clear, last year we lost a lot of money on sunflower. We didn't sell it right away, and then the price dropped sharply, and we sold it for almost half the price," the interviewee says.

This year, farmers started selling last year's harvest. They do not hide the fact that it was quite difficult because logistics are very expensive.

According to Lisa, the company had to hire a lot of trucks and pay a lot of money to deliver the goods to Odesa. In addition, there were problems with the purchase of fuels and lubricants, spare parts, fertilizers, and chemicals. Everything has become very expensive and, most importantly, it is not clear what the price will be in the future.

The agricultural company has 8700 hectares of land, of which 8000 hectares are in the Pologivsky district, and the frontline is within easy reach.

"Currently, only 2000 hectares are being cultivated in the Pologivsky district. We have sown sunflower and are planning to plant winter wheat. It is very difficult to work, not all farmers decided to sow this year. We were lucky: our fields are a little further away from the combat zone, they are not under occupation, but it is still difficult and dangerous for the machine operators and combine operators. However, they agreed to work. People understand all the risks," Lisa adds.

The farm is a family business of the Marychs. So they make all their decisions at family "meetings". This year, they decided to leave a lot of fallow land (a field free of crops), and next year they plan to sow the entire area, saying they will not leave anything behind.

The company employs more than 150 people, most of whom moved to Zaporizhzhia after the outbreak of full-scale war. The owners of the agricultural enterprise say they helped people find housing. However, enemy shells hit not only the fields, but also destroyed equipment, warehouses, and products.

"There were both shelling and air raids. Our chief engineer's car was damaged, but the most important thing is that he was not injured. At the beginning of the war, the equipment was taken away. We saved what we could," says Lisa.

But when asked whether they have calculated the damage, she says that they have not yet submitted the documents because they have not had time to do so. And, as Lisa says, "unfortunately, it's not over yet.»

According to the Regional Military Administration, today it is known that the occupiers have removed, stolen and destroyed 171 pieces of equipment both in the occupied territory and in the government-controlled territory. It has been confirmed that shelling destroyed 6 elevators in the occupied territory and on the contact line - Orikhiv and Vilniansk. In addition, the occupiers have taken out more than 1 million tonnes of grain from Zaporizhzhia region in just one year of war. Many farm storage facilities were also destroyed. The losses are estimated at tens of billions of UAH.

AGRARIAN MATH

The regional Department of Agricultural Development also confirms that the cost of wheat today is UAH 6,000-6,500 per tonn, while Nibulon, for example, accepts it for UAH 5,000 per tonn of second-class wheat.

"Perhaps farmers will be able to level up at the expense of other crops. But the cost is high, and prices are low. If possible, farms will store the crops, and when the price rises, they will sell them," says Oleksandr Yasynetskyi, deputy director of the department.

He says that because of the war, many farms also have problems getting loans, as banks provide them only to those located 40 kilometers from the contact line. That is, conditionally, those located in Zaporizhzhia or Zaporizhzhia district.

Before the outbreak of the full-scale war, there were 3,200 agricultural businesses in the region, and today there are 961 enterprises left (60 in Vasyliv district, 100 in Polohiv district, and the rest in Zaporizhzhia district). This year, only 181 companies received loans totaling UAH 460-480 million. This is a very small figure, as there are regions where farmers have already received UAH 3-4 billion. These are loans under state guarantees and the so-called "5-7-9%" loans.

If we talk about the overall situation in the region, the figures are not very good, to put it mildly. Until February 24, 2022, farmers in Zaporizhzhia region cultivated 1 million 880,000 hectares of arable land, and today 380,000 hectares remain in the territory controlled by Ukraine. That is, 1.5 million hectares (80%) are under occupation.

There are 9 elevators on the government-controlled territory, with a total storage capacity of 361,000 tonnes, and about 600,000 tonnes can be stored by the current farms owned by farmers.

"To provide Zaporizhzhia region with bakery products [we are talking about the government-controlled territory], we need only 125,000 tonnes of grain. This year, we plan to produce about 310-350,000 tonnes of grain, which will be used for bakery products and sales outside the region," says Yasynetskyi.

When asked whether the grain grown will be enough for the entire Zaporizhzhia region if it is de-occupied this year, he said: «225,000 tonnes of grain is needed to bake bread for the entire region. If there is a good harvest, and taking into account the residues that are available, the region will be provided with grain."

TO HAVE TIME TO HARVEST THE CROPS

In the government-controlled areas, early grains and legumes will be mowed first. The harvest is currently underway on 93,000 hectares. The first thousands of tons of Zaporizhzhia harvest are already on the farms' silos. To harvest the crop, the company plans to use 60 combines from agricultural producers.

By the way, the agricultural department also says that this year's harvest is better than last year. Currently, the yield is 36-37 c/ha (last year it was 28 c/ha on this date).

However, the harvesting campaign is difficult near the combat zone. About 80 hectares of winter crops were burned in Polohivskyi district as a result of enemy shelling. According to preliminary estimates, the losses amount to UAH 2 million.

Yevhen Vodopianov, acting deputy head of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Zaporizhzhia region for emergency prevention, adds that in 2023, due to Russian armed aggression, 11 fires occurred in the fields, destroying more than 80 hectares of grain. For comparison, in 2022, 40 fires broke out in Zaporizhzhia region as a result of enemy shelling, destroying more than 4,000 hectares of grain. Last year, many fields could not be harvested due to mining.

This year, before farmers went out to the fields for spring sowing, it was necessary to clear 1232 hectares of agricultural land in Zaporizhzhia region. This work was carried out by pyrotechnic units of the Main Directorate of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Zaporizhzhia region.

Olha Zvonariova, Zaporizhzhia

Photo by Dmytro Smolenko

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